December 31, 2010

A Mom Moment

One of the blogs I've been reading lately has a weekly tradition of posting a single image on Fridays of a special moment from the week, something special the writer wants to "savor and remember". I like the idea, but I'm not that handy or prolific with the camera (Ian takes a lot of the pictures for me), so I'm hesitant to sign up for making this a regular weekly thing for me. Also, it's supposed to be without words, but I'm terrible at that, too.

this moment

On Christmas Day, we were joined by a guitar and a keyboard and several family members interested in song. After a round of carols, they moved on to some classics from the 1960s. I came out of the kitchen when I heard Caitlyn singing Puff the Magic Dragon with them, and promptly teared up watching her.

I guess that's one of those mom things.

December 30, 2010

A new bookshelf

I've started a new shelf over at GoodReads called "Caitlyn's Chapter Books" where I'm attempting to list all the longer books I've read to Caitlyn. I'm mostly recreating the list at the moment, since I should have started this years ago (it's not like I've only been reading long books to her recently). Listing all the picture books would probably be an interesting exercise, but that seems a little daunting - we read a lot of picture books.

I'm adding these books to my GoodReads profile partly because I am reading them and partly to keep a list to share with Caitlyn someday: Here are all (or at least most of) the (bigger) things we read when you were small. I'll try to remember to add in any comments she has about the books in the review section, although I imagine that for the time being most of her reviews are going to be, "Read it again, Mama!"

Since I can't pre-read everything in the children's section first, I'd love suggestions. If you have any favorite chapter books (classic or otherwise) that are appropriate for a kindergartner or first grader, please send them my way. I love having a steady diet of stories to share, but I'm a bit nervous about launching into a longer book with Caitlyn without knowing what I'm getting into; it won't do to get into the middle of something only to discover she's not ready for a certain theme or image (that is, to discover that I've misjudged the age of the intended audience - we're doing fine with the princesses all getting married but actually kissing a boy is, well, "Eeeeeww!").

December 29, 2010

Once more, with pictures

Caitlyn's stocking

We started the day with stockings. Stockings, in my world, must be opened before breakfast, with everyone in their jammies. It's a warm and cozy tradition, with the smell of Christmas coffeecake wafting from the kitchen.

Christmas coffeecake

This coffeecake equals Christmas. I only make it once a year. I can't have Christmas without it. Buttery brioche pieces dunked in more butter and rolled in cinnamon and sugar and baked in a ring over caramel sauce. Mmmmm...

And this is where we deviated from tradition. It's a mostly vegetarian house; while Caitlyn and I might eat some meat on occasion, apart from a bit of chicken breast every so often, I don't cook meat. In past years, this has meant that when I've cooked for Christmas, I've prepared the traditional dishes minus The Bird. Christmas becomes The Cavalcade of Starches: potatoes, stuffing, yams, bread, pie. Rather than do that again (and just after Thanksgiving), I built us a menu that was completely unlike previous Christmases, based on things we like and complicated enough to be special.

the table

(The other advantage to our Christmas menu: almost all of it could be made ahead. I spent the two days before Christmas in a constant state of cooking. As a result, I was able to spend much of Christmas day actually enjoying and being fully present in the day.)

Christmas manicotti

I made manicotti for our main dish. I never quite found a recipe I liked, so I basically made this one up. The filling was ricotta, provolone and spinach, and the sauce was a pureed variation on my usual.

Christmas marinated vegetables

There were marinated veggies for a salad. This was a hybrid recipe from a number of sources, most of which provided the inspiration for the veggie list. Too many of the recipes I found didn't include a list of ingredients for the dressing, opting instead for a commercially bottled something.

There was also garlic bread, of course.

Christmas tiramisu

We finished our meal with a tiramisu. I used this recipe, because it uses an actual custard and not whipped cream or egg whites to make the cream filling. And because this is me that we're talking about, I made the ladyfingers and the mascarpone rather than buying them. I substituted Kahlua for the rum in the syrup. And I topped it spontaneously with whipped cream to give it a more finished look than the exposed ladyfingers. Big thanks to Empire Espresso for not blinking when I asked for 12 ounces of espresso! (And big thanks to my mom for carrying it home without sloshing!) The tiramisu was the one thing on the menu I was feeling at all nervous about, but it came out beautifully and met some really excellent reviews.

Christmas, 2010

There were presents, of course, mostly for Caitlyn. She needed prompting to read the from labels, but she remembered her thank yous. We open presents one at a time so that everyone gets to admire each person's gifts; this method is hard on kids - I remember disliking it when I was small and wanted to just tear into everything - but I think it's a way to mitigate the materialist aspects of Christmas and allow homemade gifts to get a moment on the family stage. Caitlyn waited for her turns with calm and grace.

Christmas, 2010

And she wore her new wings immediately.

December 26, 2010

Favorite Moments

...never feeling panicked about how the flow of Christmas Day was going...

...Caitlyn being so very enthusiastic about her presents but nearly always remembering to say "Thank you" without prompting... guests declaring they might never order tiramisu at a restaurant again, since it wouldn't possibly measure up to what I made...

...and the best one: Caitlyn giving me a star sticker for a job well done: "You did a really good job cooking, Mama."

December 18, 2010

Kitchen Magic

I spent another afternoon in the kitchen (yogurt, bread, more gifts, a brave attempt at something resembling curry) today. Sure, my feet are a bit sore from lots of standing, but in all I'm pretty happy just now. Which leads me to wonder, why do I like the kitchen so much?

First, I like to eat. And I like to eat things with recognizable ingredients.

I like to assemble things. There's something appealing to a pile of parts and some instructions, and something satisfying about getting a useful or beautiful thing out of the raw pieces. Quilt kits, LEGO sets, IKEA furniture, recipes.

Often the kitchen is calm and quiet, with certain exceptions. Here's a space where I'm accessible ("Mama, look at this!"), but where it's often more fufilling for Caitlyn to invent games that involve other spaces.

The kitchen is the warm center of the house. This time of year, it's easy to be warm if I'm I the kitchen, soup on the stove, bread in the oven. If I can justify a batch of cookies, even better.

But the kitchen is also the center in the figurative sense. This is where we discuss our days, make our plans; this is where friends gather. This is the heart. At the risk of sounding insecure, I suppose I like it because here I feel part of that essential center.

Or maybe it really only is just about the food. Let's see, isn't there something here that needs batch-testing?

December 16, 2010

More than I can chew

Why is it that I seem to regularly sign myself up for more than I can reasonably do? Why can't I be lazy, ever, like a normal person? (And don't say it's because I'm somehow not a "normal" person. That's not an answer.)

December 14, 2010

Caitlyn's Self-Image

Last night, Caitlyn announced, pretty much randomly:
I'm not just the Queen of Cats. I have wings and a mermaid tail. And I breathe fire! And I have beautiful tie-dyed fur. Meow!
Followed by:
Time to set the table! That's my job!
And much joyous skipping.

December 13, 2010

(Almost) First Christmas Tree

This is the first year we've bought a tree for Christmas. There's only been one Christmas since Caitlyn was born that we stayed at home, and getting a tree never made much sense those years. The year we didn't travel, we decorated the Norfolk Island Pine (which still needs a new home); it made a strange-looking Christmas tree and it meant that Christmas more or less got confined to the sunroom. Not the most ideal set up.


We don't have a large house, though, so finding a tree that wouldn't render the living room unlivable for the next three weeks was a challenge. Everyone seems to want tall trees, judging by what the market has available. And in looking for a tree, I found I missed the unshaped Douglas fir option from my childhood - the shaped trees are these perfect cones that you don't hang ornaments on so much as frost them on the tree's exterior.


We settled on a noble fir, of approximately Caitlyn's height (and hopefully, she won't ask for future trees to always be her height!). It's conical without being regular, and you can still see the TV from the couch. Caitlyn did much of the decorating after I'd strung the lights and Ian hung the garland. The next challenge is going to be helping Caitlyn remember that the ornaments are not toys.


Of course, once the tree was decorated, she wanted to open the three early presents that were under it. And was heard to whine as she headed upstairs to bed, "I can't wait until Christmas!"

December 10, 2010

A day in the kitchen

I read email this morning, and then ignored the computer for the rest of the day. As a result, I'm down to my last bottle of corn syrup and I'm out of almonds. I hand-chopped 6 cups of almonds today, and now, finally, I understand What a Food Processor Is For, although I don't think I'll buy one - I don't know where I'd put it.

I've bundled up the results of today's work already, before taking any pictures, so you'll have to imagine:

English Toffee

Peanut Brittle

(and black beans and roasted squash, but those aren't quite the same)

I'm off to go put my feet up... all day on the concrete kitchen floor has me pretty well wiped out.

December 07, 2010

Adding more holidays

Caitlyn came home from school last week and announced, "It's the first day of Hanukkah! Can we light candles?"

I figured, why not? So, our non-Jewish household has been lighting candles at dinnertime for the last week, one more each night. We've made a circle of tea lights since we don't have a menorah, and Caitlyn - without any prompting - changes out the old lights for new ones every morning. I've found some blessings to read, and we've talked about Maccabees and miracles.

This morning, Caitlyn asked for a menorah for Christmas. So, she hasn't thrown out the other holiday, just added a new one. I wonder if she'll ask to celebrate Hanukkah next year?

December 06, 2010

The Great Carrot Experiment

Last year, I chipped frozen carrots out of the p-patch. This year, I decided not to bother. The ideal way to store carrots is in a root cellar, which I don't and can't have (probably a good thing, really), although I do blanch and freeze a few quarts of carrots during the summer. But what if, as our soil isn't frozen solid all winter, I just left the carrots in the garden until we needed them? Wouldn't that be sort of like having them in a root cellar, minus the baskets full of sand?

I am pleased to announce that this method of storing carrots seems to work. At least in my garden. They sat out there two weeks ago under a couple of inches of snow, and they are just fine. The greens even survived, declining to become a slimy mess in favor of being rabbit food for our neighbor's three rabbits (who also all survived the snow). This morning, I brought in about half of the carrots that were in the garden, promptly shredding the tiniest ones for carrot muffins, and they are in lovely shape: short but fat, brilliant orange, crisp and not the slightest bit chewed on.

When offered fresh, homegrown carrots for her lunch tomorrow, Caitlyn bounced around the kitchen. I'll take that endorsement, although I think she was more excited about the prospect of pretending to brush her teeth with a carrot like one of her classmates does than about the prospect of actually eating them...

December 04, 2010

In Progress

work in progress

It's good to have projects...

What, am I in your way or something?

...even if sometimes there are Obstacles.

December 03, 2010

Inventing Traditions

I enjoyed Christmas as a kid - what child doesn't like presents and a party? But it's only recently (yes, and belatedly) occurred to me that I haven't really done anything to make sure Caitlyn will be able to say the same in 20 years. Traditions, apparently, don't make themselves.

After moving out for college, I always went back home for Christmas. I wasn't responsible for shaping the holiday there, and by then the patterns were pretty much set. When we didn't go to my family's home, Ian and I went somewhere else where we still weren't responsible, leaving the orchestration of the day to someone else. For those times we didn't go anywhere, we cherry-picked favorite memories and threw together something Christmas-like without Making a Big Deal Out of It. I have fond memories of our German Christmas, but otherwise if there weren't extra family members around, we marked the occasion only with pie.

Now there is Caitlyn. And I want her to have more memories than this.

But where to start? What does Christmas look like for our family? Not what did it look like when I was small or what does Popular Culture think it should be, but for the three of us, here, now. I have a blank canvas of sorts, and I'm trying to be deliberate in how I fill it. Finding value and not just noise.

Somethings I know already: Christmas Morning Coffeecake. Heirloom stockings. Decorating as a family. Somethings won't happen: No large turkeys or year-old plum pudding. The rest is open for invention and the seeds of tradition.

December 02, 2010

Making Pretty Lights

About the time the email discussion of How We Would Do Thanksgiving This Year got started last month, I saw this over at Uncommon Grace. We were discussing food, as one does, and spreading out the cooking responsibilities and I suggested that maybe, in addition to potatoes and pie, we could have a craft table set up. While most of the family members are quite happy to sit around and talk, Caitlyn doesn't see the appeal. I thought having a creative space might keep her from being too much underfoot in the kitchen or from jumping on the couch unsupervised. Maybe part of the suggestion was for myself.

Caitlyn did mostly drawing during her craft table time. After she drew and cut out a crown with little wobbly bits on top, I gave her a crown template and she made two more, with lots of stickers and beads. And I made these:

modpodge and tissue paper candle holders

I started only going to make one, using a pepper jelly jar I'd been saving for a couple of years for something just like this. And it turned out to be so simple and satisfying, I made two more. The first one's the best, probably because I over thought the other two.

modpodge and tissue paper candle holders

A while back, I picked up The Spiral Draw Book, mostly because I remember using Spirograph when I was too small to sit still for an entire church service. I think I used tissue paper that was too dark a color, though.

modpodge and tissue paper candle holders

This one, I think, is going to live in that special mama place. I traced Caitlyn's hand eight times and used the resulting handprint shapes to cover the jar. I get just a tiny bit teary looking at it - I imagine that's an effect that will grow as her hands get bigger.

modpodge and tissue paper candle holders

See, I'm getting smiley-teary already...

December 01, 2010

Experimenting with Titles

When I was in high school, I had an English teacher (Hi, Ms. Mullins!) who insisted that everything we wrote be titled. This resulted in some titles that had very little to do with the contents of the essay. Maybe it was James who titled something (probably about Catch-22 or Le Morte d'Arthur) "Becky's Yellow Socks". It could have been a "meeting the letter, not the spirit" kind of thing or it could have been some expression of Absurdism, in which, as rural high school seniors, we were Experts. I still have the t-shirt that class made: illustrated pocket protector on the front and a collection of in-jokes and Monty Python references on the back ("Watery Tart").

Anyway, I haven't been using titles.

I think I might start. Just to see how it goes.